Home Feature A traditional music lover’s guide to Mariposa 2023

A traditional music lover’s guide to Mariposa 2023

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I’m looking forward to attending the Mariposa Folk Festival from July 7 to 9 at Tudhope Park in Orillia, from which I’ll be reporting on festival activities for Roots Music Canada.

It is wonderful news to see that this year’s festival is sold out with only a limited number of Friday evening passes available going into the final week before the event. Clearly festival organizers are doing many things right as it is not easy to ensure a festival’s financial viability; sell-out crowds are a great way to make sure the Mariposa Folk Festival will be a going concern for years to come. Congratulations to all involved.

As one takes a quick look through the festival biographies, the first thing that becomes clear is that the people booking the Mariposa Folk Festival have done a terrific job of balancing the interests of the more traditional festival-goers with the tastes of those who might not identify at all with the whole folk festival ethos, whatever that is – world music, old-timey music, music influenced by Indigenous traditions, blues, rock, soul, R&B, singer-songwriters and on and on.

Just to offer one perspective, and with my traditionalist hat on, these are some of the acts that caught my ear. Certainly, people at the festival will seek out the higher profile acts that fit into the more traditional category, and there are all sorts of fabulous acts that would fit into other categories, but of the more traditional sorts, these acts look well worth checking out.

Jake Vaadeland & the Sturgeon River Boys. The traditional sound and unique style of this band has been defined as a blend of Bluegrass and ’50s rockabilly, with frontman Jake Vaadeland specializing on guitar and banjo in addition to his impressive vocals. Together with the Sturgeon River Boys this makes for what we are told are foot stomping, high energy performances.

Les Fireflies consist of three women, all based in New Brunswick, all of whom are accomplished professionals who have toured the world (Europe, USA, Canada). Their three fiddles, mixed with keyboards, guitars and Les Fireflies vocals represent a cultural snapshot of their Acadian Heritage with a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm that gets the audience on their feet.

Po’Boy Jeffreys & Calamity Jane are roots music revivalists. Through their commanding use of traditional instruments such as acoustic guitar, washtub bass, banjo and kazoo, the duo evokes the nostalgic sounds and ambience of southern country, pre-war blues, and ragtime. Boasting an energetic, young and unique style, Po’Boy & Calamity invite audiences to reminisce about a bygone era of traditional folk and roots that lays as the bedrock of American and Canadian music.

Showman & Coole are John Showman and Chris Coole. Through 20 years and a couple of thousand shows together in bands such as The Foggy Hogtown Boys and The Lonesome Ace Stringband, John and Chris have developed a deep and instinctual musical bond. Having performed across North America and Europe at festivals ranging from Merlefest to Mariposa, their music lurks around a truly unique space that is somewhere on the outskirts of old-time, bluegrass, and folk.

Mountain City Four featuring Anna McGarrigle and Peter Weldon with special guest Martha Wainwright: In August 2022, 1960s/70s Canadian folk group Mountain City Four announced a self-titled album that features fifteen previously unissued recordings from 1963-70, which document the early beginnings of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

In 1963, Jack Nissenson and Peter Weldon recruited Kate McGarrigle to form a trio. A few months later, Kate’s sister Anna joined, and the group became the Mountain City Four. Playing locally at Montreal folk clubs, the band developed a loyal and substantial following and played in the 1970s.

The McDades: Punching through the walls of tradition, The McDades’ Celtic-rooted music fuses the spontaneity of jazz improvisation and infectious global rhythms to create “one of the most versatile and innovative groups in Canada” (Penguin Eggs). Their cutting-edge sound is the perfect complement to their fiery performances. The London Free Press said that the band “finds their groove somewhere between a down-home kitchen party, a jazzy after-hours club and a folk festival.” The Washington Post called The McDades “The Dizzy Gillespie of the Irish tin whistle”.

There you have a snapshot of a few acts on the traditional side of things that you might want to find if you’re at the festival. It looks like it’s going to be a great weekend.

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